On Flooded Basements and the Garden of Eden

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There’s a podcast I love called Terrible, Thanks for Asking. It’s about being ok with not being ok. It’s about grieving really awful stuff. It’s about, when someone asks you how you’re doing, not just answering, “I’m fine.” It’s about sometimes saying, “I’m not fine. Everything is awful right now.” It’s about vulnerability and honesty and imperfection, tragedy and death and unbearable loss.

And somehow, in a way that’s hard to put your finger on, it’s about hope. Not in a “hard things make you stronger” or “everything happens for a reason” or “[x terrible thing] was meant to be because look at [y positive result.]”

What resonates with me so much is the idea that there aren’t necessarily any answers or reasons, at least not that I or anyone else can fully understand. Things just are. Good and bad. Deeply painful and achingly beautiful. Mundane and wonder-filled. It all exists together, and it shapes and carves and refines us all our lives.

I’ve had a lot of “bad” things happen in the past year or two – I’m getting divorced (there, I said it), money is tight, and over the past few months my toilet clogged, my car’s transmission unexpectedly quit, my roof sprung a leak in the monsoon of a summer we’ve had, and my main sewer line backed up and flooded my basement.

Just last week I was talking to a friend and fellow TTFA fan about how all that “this was meant to happen to you” stuff, though well-intentioned, drives us crazy. It especially bothers me when it’s coupled with the “God caused/made/intended this to happen to you to teach you something.”

I really feel like that’s the last thing He intended. God didn’t intend for my marriage to break up because I needed to be tougher. (But I have experienced unimaginable support from family and friends that has taught me vulnerability and gratitude I would otherwise never have known.) He didn’t make my car break down to teach me to trust Him more. (But some amazingly generous people loved me enough to come up with the money I needed to fix it.) And he didn’t pile a flooded basement on top of all that because I just wasn’t getting it. (But…well, I’m still not sure what the point of the flooded basement was.)

And then I hear stories like this, from people who have survived unimaginably deeper suffering than I have, and my flippant thoughts on the hardships of flooded basements just evaporate.

What God intends, I believe, is that in the midst of brokenness and tragedy and willfulness and pain I know that He is still there, and was always there. That in the ruins of my broken heart, He is turning over stones and rebuilding me into something lovelier, stronger. (I stole those gorgeous words.) That there is no thing bad enough that it cannot somehow be worked for good. That despite, and even in the very midst of, my most devastating moments, there is hope and growth and refinement happening. That pain and joy are tangled up in each other. That it’s ok to laugh, and crying is cool too (stole that also) and that both laughing and crying have a lot to teach me about a reality so much bigger than I can comprehend.

There is no sadistic higher power throwing around lightning bolts and tragedy as a cruel way to keep me in line. There’s also no nihilistic pointlessness to my pain. I can grow and stretch and learn and become new through suffering. It exists, and it is mine to embrace.

And if I embrace it, enter it, accept this beautifully messy, broken, painful, redemptive life, I will eventually find my way to a now-open gate, and walk through it back into that perfect, painless garden, which is where God intended me to be all along.

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